I picked up my copy of this year’s THN Yearbook the other day, and I’m slowly making my way through it. I nearly didn’t; given some of the other options out there, the $20.14 (including HST) I spent on the Yearbook and Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide was pretty hard to justify. I told myself I’d write about it here and that would help make up for it.
There are certainly some good points to the yearbook. THN contracts the team reports out to 30 different beat reporters, and the quality of some of the write-ups is excellent. To pick one example, I thought that the Bruins article, done by Mike Loftus of the Patriot Ledger, was informative and surprisingly even-handed for a writer describing a team fresh off a humiliating playoff defeat.
John Vogl’s article on the Buffalo Sabres was less enjoyable. He took the playoff disappointment and projected it across the season, repeatedly highlighting a lack of passion by the fans that he felt he saw:
“The thing is, [the Sabres’ regular season] didn’t feel all that special. The fans filled the arena, yet they seemed to sit on their hands just waiting for their team to fail them. Once the playoffs rolled around, the Sabres did. A quick, first-round exit to the Boston Bruins proved what fans were thinking: The team wasn’t ready for the big time.”
“The 40th anniversary figures to be a big deal in town, so if there’s passion on the ice it’ll be more evident in the stands, too.”
Just for the sake of context, this was the Sabre’s first playoff appearance since 2007 (when The Sporting News named them the best hockey city in America), and the team’s outdoor “Party in the Plaza” started filling up three hours before playoff games started. The Sabres, anticipating that kind of excitement, brought in a 40’ x 120’ tent to guarantee the party against rain, and despite beer restrictions and a disappointing loss, the level of energy was “just as high” after Game Two.
And while I’m on the subject of playoff disappointment, here’s how Vogl opened his section on the Sabres’ 2nd-ranked penalty kill and 17th-ranked power play:
“Failure. Check that. Abject failure.”
After 82 games with the second-best penalty kill in the league (the Sabres finished one goal out of first in the league) and six games of struggling against the Sabres, it took five paragraphs to discover that the penalty kill was actually pretty good. The other four paragraphs documented those six playoff games.
Despite the pessimism, Vogl remained optimistic about Sabres’ goaltender Ryan Miller:
“As good as Miller was last season while winning the Vezina Trophy, there’s reason to think he’ll be even better in 2010-11. He’s in his prime at 30 years of age. An astute student of the game, he reads plays with the ease of a Dr. Seuss book. He’s the reason Buffalo has a chance to win every game in which he plays.”
Leaving aside the fact that the only reason offered to support the contention that Miller could improve is the fact that he’s 30, how likely is it that Miller will take another step forward? Given that Miller’s save percentage was 0.929, 0.015 better than his career average and 0.011 better than his previous career high, that he’s 30, it seems unlikely. Given that Miller’s numbers this year were bolstered when his historically below-average penalty-killing numbers led the league this season, it seems even more unlikely.
Then there’s Vogl’s take on Kaleta:
“[The Sabres perceived softness is] one reason why players such as Patrick Kaleta have pledged to fill a bigger role. Tenacious, hard-hitting and willing to do anything, Kaleta and his ilk are hoping to not only spark the team but be its long-lasting flame.”
I’m not sure which is worse: that Patrick Kaleta, who ranked 16th of 18 Sabres forwards in average ice-time per game, gets a whole paragraph lauding him as the cure to what ails the Sabres, or that his one area of incredible skill didn’t get mentioned once in it.
I’m being harsh to Vogl here, harsher than I’d originally intended (or than he probably deserves) because his article highlights a lot of areas that have bothered me about THN (and to some degree, hockey reporting in general) for years: broad, self-serving narratives of questionable accuracy, drawing results from one playoff series and projecting them as orders of magnitude more important than results over the 82-game regular season, and poorly supported statements about players that may or may not be grounded in reality.